“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Shirley Chisholm – Acceptance
How hard should we try to be accepted by others?
Being excluded for unpopular opinions hurts. Being excluded because of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation is devastating. Exclusion devalues our humanity, which can make us bitter, resentful and angry. At these unpleasant moments we face crucial moral decisions. We can walk away and create space to preserve our dignity or we can stubbornly assert ourselves to gain acceptance and respect. Each decision carries consequences felt throughout our lives.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – for a compelling conversation about acceptance, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions. Then join our Community of Educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Teach Different podcast this week. We have an awesome quote from Shirley Chisholm, the very first African American woman in Congress who was also the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States of one of the two major parties. We’ll be sharing her quote in a moment. Today it will just be Steve and Dan Fouts. We’re going to converse with one another using the 3-step method. For those unfamiliar with this method, we’re going to start with the quote from Shirley Chisholm, then work through the claim of the quote by interpreting it using our own language. Then we’ll move to a counterclaim that pushes against what she is saying. We’ll end with an essential question. We like to remind our listeners to visualize having this type of conversation with their students. Steve and I are going to model what that may look like. The idea is that we share this with you, so that you can share it with your group.
Here’s a powerful quote by Shirley Chisholm. “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Steve, what do you think the claim is?
Steve Fouts 02:09 – Claim
It’s obviously about acceptance. The reason why I think this quote is powerful is that most people have had the experience of being excluded or disrespected by other people, and not felt welcome. This is an inspiring quote because she’s saying that while they don’t want you there, go anyway to let them know that you’re here to stay as long as you want. That’s what I love about a folding chair. I just imagine someone sitting, watching the festivities, and insisting on the fact that they have a right to be there. I don’t know if that’s reading too much into it, but I would say it’s all about acceptance, and that you need to assert yourself. You have a right to do that, and you should.
Dan Fouts 03:27
The importance of acceptance, and if you are not accepted by others, you have to advocate for yourself, and demand that people pay attention to you. That is a way to get acceptance. Some people will look at you and respect you more for doing that. People will look up to you as someone who can stand up for herself or himself and now will accept you. That’s in a perfect world. That’s the reaction you would want. Depending on the situation, it’s also true that if someone brings a folding chair, they may be igniting even more opposition from others, so it might backfire.
Steve Fouts 04:19
They’re crashing the party.
Dan Fouts 04:20
Steve Fouts 04:21
They’re not wanted, and they’re trying to assert themselves. Everybody is thinking, who is this trying to be with us? Think about kids who are left out of groups. They’ve all felt that sting. I shouldn’t say all, because there are some kids who are privileged, or are the popular kids, and haven’t felt this sting. They are the ones who bring the table and chairs and decide who gets to come. Feeling left out is something that I think most kids have felt at some point.
Dan Fouts 05:13
Maybe they were left out of a friend group, or a sports team. They could feel left out in a classroom. Sometimes as teachers, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, but maybe we’re not acknowledging or paying attention to some students in class. We hope that those students would assert themselves and metaphorically bring a folding chair, or come up to us after class and say, Hey, I had some interesting things to say, but I didn’t say them. Think of the author of this quote. She’s the first African American woman to ever go after the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major parties. You want to talk about bringing a folding chair?
Steve Fouts 06:13
Yeah, it’s great.
Dan Fouts 06:15
Imagine the opposition she felt in wading into those waters.
Steve Fouts 06:22
Again, the kids are going to have their own experiences with this. I’m starting to realize that this conversation could get pretty personal. When you ask a kid to share a time when they were left out, they could have all kinds of things to say. You hope they wouldn’t say that about their family. That’s the one group that you hope they’ve never felt left out of, but you just never know what you’re going to get. You don’t know what these kids are going through. This could be powerful.
Dan Fouts 07:04
I wasn’t thinking of the family angle, but you’re right.
Steve Fouts 07:08
You have to navigate that one, because some might put that out there. If you get some kids talking about family situations where they felt estranged, it could get emotional.
Dan Fouts 07:30
You can ask them how they felt when they were excluded. How did they react when they were excluded? How did they get out of it? How did you not let it get to you? Were you indifferent? Were you angry? This is a chance for the kids to explore some of their emotions when they feel left out. Depending on the racial and ethnic makeup of your room, you can imagine how powerful this could be.
Steve Fouts 08:05
Diversity in general. The more diversity in your students, the more powerful this could be. When a student shares something genuine about feeling excluded, it will build a nice culture in the class.
Dan Fouts 08:26
You said this before. When a kid is vulnerable, and they share something that bothers them, most of the time, the other kids will go to bat for her/him.
Steve Fouts 08:38
Dan Fouts 08:38
They will think that it’s time to take a risk. Again, it’s going to depend on your classroom dynamics, but I think as teachers, it’s really important to try conversations like this. As teachers, what would we say about a time when we felt excluded?
Steve Fouts 09:03
It’s important to have a story queued up. I would put myself out there on this one. I can share the story of being left off the eighth grade basketball team. Except you can’t force your way into that. You’re just cut. Stories about being excluded from friend groups would work better. In eighth grade, there was a peer group that stopped hanging out with me. I think they stopped hanging out with you, too. We were hanging out all the time, but then it never picked up again. We moved after freshman year in high school, and we didn’t stay friends with most of them.
Dan Fouts 09:51
That was a situation where we didn’t bring a folding chair.
Steve Fouts 09:57
We just ghosted them because they ghosted us.
Dan Fouts 10:00
Well, that actually feeds into the counterclaim.
Steve Fouts 10:04
Yeah, let’s do it. What is the counterclaim?
Dan Fouts 10:06 – Counterclaim
The counterclaim is, if you feel excluded by people, walk away. Do something else and stop wasting your time. I mean, on some level. Right. Stop wasting your time and find some other group, or some other place where you feel accepted by others. That makes sense depending on what it is. Who needs to spend their energy trying to reform other people’s minds. That sounds like a journey you don’t want to take, and it’s not worth it, so just move to brighter skies and better waters.
Steve Fouts 11:01
When you’re trying to be accepted by a group that just doesn’t want you, you start to adopt ways that might not be healthy. You might become more of a negative person, or not be yourself, because you’re trying to gain acceptance, and people aren’t having it. Walk away, and find a friend group where you can be yourself. Who doesn’t want that? If I had to pick one of these, just personally, I’m definitely walking away, and doing my own thing. That might be a little privilege.
Dan Fouts 11:50
Right. That’s what I was going to say.
Steve Fouts 11:52
We were kind of in the popular crowd, I guess you could say, in high school. Our high school was cool, because there were five crowds that were all kind of equal. I’m siding with the counterclaim. I’m moving on. I can’t deal with these people. Then you look at Chisholm, and she’s in a different situation.
Dan Fouts 12:28
She can’t walk away, because by walking away she’d be feeding the prejudice that’s feeding the lack of belief. That’s not going to change the system. It really depends on who you are, and what situation you find yourself in.
Steve Fouts 12:53
That’s a fun question for the kids. Talk about a time when you were rejected or weren’t accepted, and you walked away. You did something else, and you didn’t let it get to you. How did that feel? How did that work out? Share a success story.
Dan Fouts 13:20
I would push the question further and say, have you ever walked away from a situation where you felt excluded, and you ended up winning? Meaning they realized that by excluding you, they were hurting themselves. You felt validated and vindicated by your actions. Those are great stories, because the people who excluded you reflected and realized the mistake they made. Conversely, did you walk away, and regret it?
Steve Fouts 14:06
You’re bringing up a great point. Sometimes a way to get accepted is by leaving. People need to know what it’s like without you there in order to develop a respect for you. Then, everybody wants to be your friend. You could even think about that as a tactic. Has anyone ever wanted to get into a group, but acted like you didn’t really care about it, then, lo and behold, the strategy worked and everybody wanted you? That’d be interesting, too.
Dan Fouts 14:41 – Essential Question
Yes. To our listeners, try to imagine using this quote, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” with elementary, middle, or high school students. They are going to have some visceral reactions to this, because this is one of those human experiences that is shared by all of us. Whenever you have that, you have the seeds for a really good conversation.
Here’s an essential question that you could ask at the end of this conversation. How hard should we try to be accepted by others? We’re all going to experience this in life, and we’re going to have to decide whether we should try to be accepted, or walk away. What a lifelong question that you’re going to have to ask yourself at various times. That is really important for your own sense of self-worth, and self-esteem.
Steve Fouts 16:01
Yeah, and it’s going to build self awareness. This is like social emotional learning on steroids. There are so many different angles to take. I just thought of a curriculum connection. In history, when you’re talking about things like the suffrage movement, the Progressive Era, and civil rights, the times when unjust laws were being fought against, look at how people reacted when their own society wouldn’t accept them or see them as worthy of rights. I just thought of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. In the earlier part of their lives, they reacted differently to this lack of acceptance. Malcolm X was more about being proud of who you are. Don’t get caught up in trying to integrate and get into society. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took the other approach. Assert your rights. You deserve them. Bring your folding chair. You deserve that. Any struggle against injustice will be a great curriculum connection for this quote.
Dan Fouts 17:26
Start with this conversation, and then teach about that person, or group, in history. Evaluate their actions in light of this quote. In history, you can always revert back to this conversation and say, well, would Ida B. Wells agree with Shirley Chisholm? Why? Students are making connections. That’s where the powerful academic learning takes place. I love the quote.
Well, thanks so much, everybody. We will see you soon. Keep listening to the Teach Different Podcast. We have a lot of quotes coming up.
Steve Fouts 18:23
See you later, everybody.
Dan Fouts 18:25
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join our Community of Educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different Podcast, take care!